Meat & Livestock News

Defra Survey Reveals Lowest English Sheep Flock Numbers in Over a Decade


The latest annual livestock survey by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) indicates that the English sheep flock has reached its lowest numbers in twelve years. The data, collected in June 2023, shows a year-on-year decline of 3.2% in the overall sheep population.

Breeding Flock Statistics

The female breeding flock experienced a reduction of 116,000 head, a decrease of 1.6%, bringing the total to nearly 7 million head. Within this category, breeding ewes intended for slaughter saw an 8.8% increase compared to last year.

However, this was offset by declines in ewes intended for first-time breeding (down 8.3%) and those intended for further breeding (down 1.3%).

Lamb and Ram Numbers

The survey also revealed a 4.9% reduction, equivalent to 364,000 head, in lambs aged under a year compared to June 2022. Conversely, ram numbers saw a modest 1.2% increase year-on-year, along with a 3.5% increase in other sheep aged one year and older.

Industry Challenges and Market Trends

The decline in sheep numbers continues a general trend observed since 2017, influenced by various industry challenges such as input cost fluctuations, changes in agricultural policy, and shifts in consumer purchasing habits.

Despite these challenges, Great Britain’s finished lamb prices have remained relatively firm in 2023, particularly since early August. Recent store market price data also suggests a firm trade in store lambs, with prices above historical averages.

Future Outlook

The changes in ewe numbers suggest a potential consolidation of the flock in the coming year. However, a complete picture will only emerge once data from other devolved nations is available.